Ten simple steps to happiness
3:00pm Sunday 25th August 2013 in News
Forget expensive spas and yoga holidays, sometimes it's the simple things in life that make all the difference.
1 - Crank up the music
We don't need scientific proof to convince us of the inspiring powers of music but, in case you're wondering, scientific proof does exist - and lots of it. Earlier this summer, a study by the University of Missouri in the US found that listening to uplifting music boosted mood.
So put on some feel-good music, turn off the TV, forget about everything else, and really absorb it - then feel the tension ease away and your spirits lift. It works even better if you dance around the room too. Oh go on, you can always close the curtains...
2 - Go for a walk
It's free, you can do it anywhere, and it can be as strenuous or relaxing as you want it to be - the benefits of a good stroll are certainly endless.
"Walking has been shown to improve self-esteem, relieve depression, anxiety and improve mood," says Amanda Godsell, a fitness instructor who trains walk leaders for Walking for Health, a UK-wide walking group scheme led by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support (www.walkingforhealth.org.uk).
As well as the health benefits and feel-good hormones released from being active, being outdoors in the fresh air and surrounded by nature brings an added boost.
"It can give you valuable thinking time to put life's challenges into perspective, or it can be a great social way to exercise by going with a friend or joining a local group," adds Godsell.
3 - Catch up with a friend
When it comes to feeling happy, studies have found that people who regularly have a coffee, for instance, with a close friend are happier than those who focus more on 'bigger' rewards, like expensive holidays.
Indeed, little regular boosts can be more beneficial than skipping the small pleasures to save up for that latest flat-screen TV or shiny car.
Interaction with friends is especially important as we get older. Research by the University of Greenwich in 2010 found that having strong a social network was crucial to pensioners' life satisfaction. Friends enable you to forget about work and chores and being a mum/granny/wife, or dad/husband, for a short, but vital, period, and just be 'you'.
So make time in your diary for a regular catch up with a pal.
4 - Write a letter
"Hand-writing letters is done so rarely these days that when people do it, it feels quite momentous," says John O'Connell, author of For The Love Of Letters: The Joy Of Slow Communication (Short Books, £12.99).
With email and mobile phones, instant communication has become so easy, but it lacks the meaning of an old-fashioned letter. Sitting down to write enables you to focus your thoughts and reflect on what's going on in your world - and there's the pleasure of knowing you'll be making the lucky recipient's day too.
"A letter comes from the heart," says O'Connell. "You feel as though you're getting a unique part of that person's soul, it's a very rich experience for both the writer and the recipient."
5 - Wear brights
Have you ever stopped to wonder why going for a stroll on a bright summer's day, when all the flowers are in bloom, really lifts the spirits? While stepping out on a gloomy, grey day has the opposite effect?
Our moods respond to brightness and colour, and this is something fashion stylists have been using to their advantage for years. So for an instant mood-booster, throw on some colour. If wearing too much sounds daunting, start with just a splash - a bright scarf or sweater, perhaps. Our appearance is often one of the first things we neglect when we're feeling down and de-motivated, and making a little effort can work wonders for reviving spirits and boosting confidence.
6 - Browse old photos
Whether it's a wedding or a holiday when the children were young, why not dust off those old photo albums and indulge in the memories? A healthy dose of nostalgia can be comforting and reviving.
"Reminiscing is a wonderful way to enhance your feelings of wellbeing," says Dr Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts who writes a blog about fulfilment during life's later years (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age).
"Going back through old albums and memorabilia can reconnect you with the good times you shared with family or get-togethers with your friends. Even small details that you've forgotten can bring back some of those past feelings."
7 - Reach for the trowel
Earlier this year, a survey by Gardeners' World magazine revealed that 90% of gardeners believe their hobby boosts their mood. People who regularly gardened were less likely to report feeling unhappy or depressed, too.
You don't have to be an expert - pottering around outdoors can be relaxing and rewarding and seeing the fruits of your labour brings great fulfilment. If you don't have a garden, how about looking into community gardening projects or shared allotments?
8 - Do a good deed
"Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness," says Dr Mark Williamson, director of the Action for Happiness movement, which promotes happiness through all sorts of ways, including bringing people together and encouraging everyone to be more giving (www.actionforhappiness.org).
"Helping others is not only good for them and a great thing to do generally, it makes us happier and healthier. Opportunities to show kindness are everywhere and when we take them we find life to be so much more meaningful and rewarding."
Don't worry if you don't have time to volunteer for a charity or much money to spare - small acts of kindness, like offering to pick up a neighbour's groceries, donating biscuits to a nearby care home, or picking up the phone to ask a relative how they are doing all make a big difference.
9 - Pick up a book
A good book can stay with your for years and in the short term, reading can have happiness-boosting powers too. As one benefit, it requires you to find peace and quiet and switch off from 'normal' life, and this in itself is relaxing and stress-relieving.
"We think reading has some really powerful benefits, and health and wellbeing is one of these," says Debbie Hicks, The Reading Agency charity's director of research. "You can escape with a book. It takes you away from your surroundings, off into another world. It's almost like going on holiday."
Borrowing books from your local library is free and anyone can join. For inspiration, The Reading Agency's Reading Well Mood-Boosting Books scheme suggests a host of uplifting novels, non-fiction and poetry books (www.readingagency.org.uk/adults/tips/reading-well-mood-boosting-books-list.html).
10 - Get baking
Baking has enjoyed a revival in recent years, with the success of shows like The Great British Bake Off, and no wonder - it's one of life's real simple pleasures. Keen bakers rave about the therapeutic qualities of retreating to the kitchen for a few hours.
All the mixing and kneading requires a degree of effort (unless you're using a fancy mixer!), and getting stuck in can be a great tension-releaser. Then there's the uplifting magic of delicious aromas wafting through the house - and then, finally, you have a tasty treat to enjoy, or share with loved one, or take into work the following day.
Don't get hung up on whether your brownies or cakes are perfect, that defeats the purpose. Baking's a skill and requires practice, just make sure you have fun trying.
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